As a newly converted and completely self-righteous non-smoker I was amazed to learn that until last month it was still legal for children to buy cigarettes in Belgium. It’s now illegal to sell cigarettes to under 16s, but so far the government has not carried out any inspections to ensure the law is being implemented. According to the Department of Health, shopkeepers must be given time to get used to the new rules and inspections will be carried out in due course.
I have regularly been approached by youths on the street and asked for a fag and initially – in shock – gave them one. Kids under 16 are still not forbidden to smoke (in public or anywhere else), so a ban on retailers selling them is unlikely to make much of a difference.
Attitudes in Belgium are some way behind Britain on this point and it’s still the kind of place where it is entirely normal to smoke. Cigarettes are ridiculously cheap – though this was of course convenient when I myself smoked.
I hope I’ll stay a non-smoker, but either way the situation here has got to change. If it does I’m more likely to stay a non-smoker, or try to quit again sooner. The government here is starting to talk about big increases in taxes. Total bans on smoking in public places, and the £5 packet of 20 cannot be that far away.